Five tips to ask a British person to do something for you

I spent many years working in local government in the UK. The job was quite a tricky one because I often had to ask people to do things that I did not manage or was not responsible for. Directly asking for something to be done did not always get an immediate response and achieve ‚buy in‘. I learnt that when I had something in common with the person, or I found something out about them, that it somehow made my request more easier for them to digest and that they were, in a way, more compliant.


However, you may be seen as excellent communicator in your own culture, but what works well in your culture may not go down well in native English speaker culture, and particularly in the UK.


I remember that we employed a German girl in our office in the UK. She was, basically, ‚fresh off the plane‘. She was very capable, able and respected as being good at her job. However, her way of dealing people left her colleagues somewhat confused. She would go directly to people and ask for things to be done. It seemed that she assumed her wishes, expectiations and demands were immediately evident to other people. Although people didn’t dislike her, they politely avoided doing things for her.


The UK is unusual in being a more relationship based business culture when compared to other English speaker countries and Germany. As a result, and in my experience, day-to-day business activites are conducted on a more personal level. This is highlighted in Erin Meyer’s book ‚The Culture Map‘


I certainly found that success came by forming some kind of trust and mutual bond. I would like to give you tips that were successful for me when I worked in the UK.


One: I found it good to start off with a minute of smalltalk and developing ‚rapport‘, in other words, building a connection with the other person . Show that you focused on and interested in what the other person is doing.. Is there something that you have in common with or know about this person? But not for too long!


Two: I would be clear and concise about what you are asking the person to do – if necessary, I would put the reasons after the suggestion and not before. Although you’ve made the small-talk and the rapport it’s important to be clear about what you want the person to do.


Three: use downgraders when you ask the person to do something. This is used a lot in British culture. It is a kind of formal politeness that shows respect and goodwill to the other person.  Im my opinion it’s a British way and more complex way of  using the ‚Sie’form.

minor, possibly, quite, relatively, somewhat…


Four: Ask open-ended questions when you want to gain commitment from the person.. This is again a form of politeness, showing respect for the other person.

How difficult would it be for you to…?

When would you be able to do this by?

What’s possible for you?


Five: show appreciation at the end of your request – in my experience British colleagues respond well to this. Phrases you could are:

‚thank you for your time‘

‚I appreciate you doing this‘

Or you could even show some personal gratitude ‚I’m pleased about this‘.

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